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Quotation of the Day…

… is from my emeritus Nobel-laureate colleague Vernon Smith‘s splendid speech “Human Betterment Through Globalization,” delivered in September 2005 at the Irvington-on-Hudson then-headquarters of the Foundation for Economic Education:

The challenge is that we all function simultaneously in two overlapping worlds of exchange. First, we live in a world of personal, social exchange based on reciprocity and shared norms in small groups, families, and communities. The phrase “I owe you one” is a human universal across many languages in which people voluntarily acknowledge indebtedness for a favor. From primitive times, personal exchange allowed specialization of tasks (hunting, gathering, and tool making) and laid the basis for enhanced productivity and welfare. This division of labor made it possible for early men to migrate all over the world. Thus, specialization started globalization long before the emergence of formal markets.

Second, we live in a world of impersonal market exchange where communication and cooperation gradually developed through long-distance trade between strangers. In acts of personal exchange we usually intend to do good for others. In the marketplace this perception is often lost as each of us tends to focus on our own personal gain. However, our controlled laboratory experiments demonstrate that the same individuals who go out of their way to cooperate in personal exchange strive to maximize their own gain in a larger market. Without intending to do so, in their market transactions they also maximize the joint benefit received by the group. Why? Because of property rights. In personal exchange the governing rules emerge by voluntary consent of the parties. In impersonal market exchange, the governing rules—such as property rights, which prohibit taking without giving in return—are encoded in the institutional framework. Hence the two worlds of exchange function in a similar way: you have to give in order to receive.

DBx: Vernon, who is still going strong, was born in Wichita 97 years ago today. Happy Birthday, Vernon!

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